Negotiation: does it have to be awkward?

How to negotiate salary without it being awkward

Conversations about compensation make many of us squirm. Is there a way to overcome awkwardness and negotiate salary and key working benefits with ease?

Some things in life are bound to be awkward. Blind dates. Tripping in public. Waving at someone who doesn’t see you. Bumping into your ex. Spilling your drink on yourself. Asking someone to repeat themselves and still not hearing them. And in a professional context, the clincher: negotiating your salary and benefits. Too often, we hold ourselves back and avoid situations altogether where we may feel awkward and vulnerable, to the detriment of our personal and professional growth.

Female employee afraid to ask managers for an increase in salary

Not satisfied but too scared to ask

According to a 2022 study, only 31 per cent of Australian employees are satisfied with their current salary. Unfortunately, 42 per cent don’t feel confident enough to negotiate a raise. This can lead to a variety of issues, such as employees being less engaged in their work, seeking work elsewhere at higher paying companies, or simply feeling resentful about being underpaid, which in turn affects team morale. Statistics show that each month, 28,000 people google ‘how to negotiate salary’. From those 28,000 people who feel negotiation doesn’t come naturally to them, how many get the courage to make a move and communicate their needs?

Certain demographics feel more confident asking for what they want – the statistics probably won’t be terribly surprising. Women are less comfortable than men when asking for a raise, with 31 per cent of women stating their discomfort, in comparison with 23 per cent of men. Younger people (aged 18 to 34) are also more likely to negotiate their starting salary, with 65 per cent willing to have that conversation when receiving a job offer, in comparison with only 38 per cent of older people (aged 55+). Regardless of what demographic you belong to, one thing is true: if you’re fearful of negotiating salary and benefits, you’re certainly not alone.

Female employee unsatisfied with salary conversation outcome

Avoiding challenges

If you choose to avoid the challenge of negotiation altogether, again, you’re not alone…but this choice may end up costing you in many ways. Opting to stay within your comfort zone may be comfortable in the moment, but it will eventually feel restrictive, dull, and ultimately lead to greater discomfort than facing your challenges. As Anaïs Nin said: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Accepting less than you deserve, not communicating your needs, and not practising the art of negotiation may impact far more than your bank balance over time: your job performance, sense of self-worth, career satisfaction, professional expansion and relationships with your colleagues may all suffer when you feel unable to back yourself and express your needs.

Female employee happy while negotiating salary

Embrace the awkwardness

We now know that many people find negotiation awkward and thus, many people avoid it…even at great personal and professional cost to themselves. To address the question posed at the start, instead of asking how can we avoid the awkwardness of negotiation, what if we were to instead reframe it as: how can we lean in and embrace the awkwardness? Instead of resisting our feelings of anxiety and discomfort and avoiding situations which trigger those responses, what would happen if we simply acknowledged those feelings and allowed them, and negotiated our needs anyway?

Being okay with awkwardness in a negotiation can actually work to your advantage. Many times during negotiations, people state their requests but then continue to talk nervously in an attempt to mask their awkwardness, undercutting themselves in the process. Skilled negotiators recommend doing the opposite: state your request and then simply be silent. Embrace the awkwardness, allow the other person their reaction (even if it’s negative) and breathe through any feelings that arise. By remaining calm and silent, you will ensure you don’t backtrack on what you’re asking for, you allow the other party to process your request and you take away the power of any feelings of discomfort that arise by simply sitting with them. Like all things, negotiation takes practice. Instead of placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves to not feel awkward, or avoiding negotiations altogether, we may find vast relief in simply allowing ourselves to be human, acknowledging our discomfort, and asking for what we want anyway.

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